‘Hamlet 2’ offers hysterical irreverence

Dana Marschz wanted nothing more out of life than to become an actor – to have his craft brought to the world to move others. But after an unfulfilling career consisting mainly of late-night infomercials and shoddy bit parts on shows like “Xena: Warrior Princess,” he moves to Tucson, Ariz., “the place where dreams go to die.”

Sticking to the ancient philosophy of “those who can’t do, teach,” Marschz heads up the drama department at the local high school, filling his days adapting popular Hollywood films for his meager troupe of students. That is, until a budget crisis, classroom overcrowding and a vicious film critic force him into creating his own production, the ingeniously titled “Hamlet 2.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The concept of a sequel to William Shakespeare’s classic is not only borderline sacrilegious, it is also unfeasible, seeing as how almost the entire cast dies before the curtain falls. However, there is a device to work around this, involving a time machine, Prince Hamlet and Jesus Christ.

“Hamlet 2,” the film, is not so much about the play as it is about its inept creator. Steve Coogan, who was last seen in this summer’s “Tropic Thunder,” portrays Marschz, a character so awkward and clueless he makes Michael Scott look normal.

Some of the biggest laughs in the movie are drawn from the character’s foolish interaction with a crew of drama nerds, right-wingers and juvenile delinquents.

Although the film points out the absurd nature of dramatic productions in the high school setting, it mainly pokes fun at the ludicrous nature in which teachers try to connect with their students.

The play itself is the most humorous element of the film. One part musical and one part postmodern theater, the high school’s final production looks like a carnival sideshow come to life.

The song “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” is a catchy sing-along and isn’t half as offensive as the other notable song in the play, “Raped in the Face.”

Complete with extended cameos from Elisabeth Shue and the Gay Men’s Choir of Tucson, the film crosses over into irreverence several times, but never without reason.

The film almost marks a return to form for writer/director Andrew Fleming. After duds like “The In-Laws” and last year’s “Nancy Drew,” Fleming turns on the charm, bringing back edgier, wittier material seen previously in films like “The Craft” and the vastly underrated “Dick.”

Completely mismarketed on the platform of being from the makers of “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” the film runs deeper, going for both high and lowbrow, but never sinking to the level of scatological humor and goofy pratfalls.

Quips about Ophelia or Laertes go against jokes about LSD-spiked mango iced tea, and it makes for a far-reaching mix of laughs.

The biggest asset of “Hamlet 2” is also its biggest flaw. While the movie tries to reach all sorts of varying comedic tastes, it jumps too frequently.

The film takes such a broad approach to comedy that it has a hard time finding its place.

For what it is, though, “Hamlet 2” is a very funny and intelligent movie with lively performances from Coogan and Shue.